By Rev. Tracey Leslie
Happy New Year! If you were in worship last Sunday, you might remember me saying that the church has its own calendar year and that last week marked the end of the Christian year. So, it’s only logical that today begins a new year as we embark on the journey of Advent: as we prepare our hearts and minds to remember and celebrate the coming of Christ. The Christian year begins today with an overview of history, beginning at the end.
Perhaps you’ve watched a TV show or a movie that begins with a surprising or troubling scene. You think “how on earth did we get here?” And then, almost as if the writers anticipated your question, the picture changes and a note at the bottom of your screen says something like “24 hours ago” or “2 days earlier.” In the narrative world this “flash forward” relates an event which has not yet happened in such a way that the audience knows what is coming. We may not know exactly how we’ll get there, but we’re confident of the future the writer has revealed. On the Christian calendar, today is a “flash forward.” Our celebration of Jesus’ coming as a baby in a manger begins with the story of Jesus, the cosmic Christ returning at the end of time. In other words, before we celebrate a past event (Jesus’ birth), we first celebrate a future event (Jesus’ return).
In this morning’s gospel reading, Jesus tells his audience of this future time when “they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory;” and that when this occurs, they are to stand up and raise their heads, because their deliverance is drawing near.
So, too, the hymn writer pleads: “O come, desire of nations, bind all people in one heart and mind… deliver us from earthly strife.”
Last Sunday was Christ the King Sunday. We acknowledge Christ as our King and yet strife seems to reign across our earth. It began early in that mythical Garden of Eden; this strife, this sense of competition, this mistrust and envy. It didn’t take long for the serpent to convince that first woman that God was holding back on her and it didn’t take long for her to convince her husband. It didn’t take long for their first two sons, Cain and Abel, to be in strife; a competition so fierce Cain murdered his brother. In fact, Hebrew scripture is filled with stories of strife; between individuals, withins families, and between nations and tribes.
But that was never God’s will. God’s desire has always been for peace; that we might learn God’s ways and walk in the light. And so, through the prophet Isaiah, we are reminded that the time will come when nations will no longer lift up swords against one another; a time when God will deliver us from earthly strife.
I imagine it may seem odd that Advent (which concludes with a sweet little baby in a manger) begins with these jolting words from the gospel of Luke. We want to hear about that sweet little baby in a manger. But, we don’t want to hear about the shaking of the earth and distress among the nations. That’s why many of us have started avoiding the news, right?
I mean, if we’re honest with ourselves, our world is already awash in strife and violence. I don’t want to sound like an end-times quack, but we are well on our way there, right? There is great distress on this earth among – and within – the nations… and families and communities.
So Advent must be about more than those beautiful ceramic nativity sets and a baby announcement serving as an opiate for the anxious Christian masses. Advent is a reminder to us that we do have a King who, at the end of time, will be witnessed coming in a cloud to deliver us from earthly strife; to put an end to all violence and strife. We do have a king who redeems us and delivers us even now… at least in as much as we accept his reign over our lives.
Advent isn’t about sentiment and nostalgia. This is a season of preparation… and practice because that swaddled baby in a manger grew to be a man who, by succumbing to the violence of a cross, defeated the powers of violence and death. Even the ultimate enemy of death was destroyed through his death.
But what does that really mean for us, here and now, living in this time between Jesus in a manger and Jesus breaking through the clouds? Are we just bidding time in between times?
No; because this season, this Sunday, is a reminder that right here and now, Christ isn’t merely a swaddled baby in a manger or just hanging out in the heavens. Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph; Jesus, the Cosmic Christ the King; has a place in this in-between time and we are that place. Let me say that again: we are that place.
The word Advent means “coming” and, in this season, we give thanks that the coming of Jesus is not only in the past and future. Jesus is coming still: each day, day by day, day after day. Jesus comes here and now within and among us, his people.
And, if that is so, then he will live through us in the same way he lived in the flesh when he was here on earth. He lived as one who fed the hungry, healed the sick and bound wounds, as one who comforted those who mourn. Through his earthly coming long ago, Jesus built a compassionate, loyal and loving community; he spoke truth to power and sought out the lost. In the first century, in the region of the Galilee, that is what Jesus came to do and did. Today, here in Lafayette and Tippecanoe County, that is still what Jesus is coming to do. But now, he comes through us and does those things through us.
So Advent is a season to prepare for and practice the deliverance Jesus brings in the past, present and future. We, of course, only live in one of those dimensions – the present. We cannot time travel. But, we can embody the coming of Jesus here and now to deliver us from evil; the evil of envy and prejudice and divisions and violence and strife. Even as we pray: O Lord, deliver us from evil and use us as your instruments of deliverance in the lives of others.
So this morning, before you leave worship, I want to invite you to think of ways that you already do – and additional ways you can – make the deliverance of Jesus present in the lives of others. Before I give you a quiet moment for reflection around that, I want to give you just a few examples. When you make extra holiday food and deliver it to someone you know who is struggling to make ends meet, you are making the deliverance of Jesus present in the life of another. When you go and visit someone who cannot leave their home or facility due to age or disability and you sit and really listen to the stories they share, you are making the deliverance of Jesus present in the life of another. When you take the time to read up on a legislative policy that you know will adversely impact the working poor and you send an email or make a call to your representative, you are making the deliverance of Jesus present in the life of another. When you assist with Jubilee Christmas, you are making the deliverance of Jesus present to others. When you take time to work in Trinity’s garden (located in an area that is a “food desert,” lacking fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables), you are making the deliverance of Jesus present to others. There are so many things all of us can do to feed and comfort and build healthy community; to speak out for truth; and to work for justice and equity. And when we feel overwhelmed by all the suffering in the world and aren’t sure where to start, we can begin with a prayer – a simple prayer – inviting the Christ Child to come into the world, into the lives of others, through us. As we live in this time between baby Jesus in a manger and Christ the King breaking through the clouds, the very real presence of Jesus still has a place… and we are that place.
So, take just a moment now to ask Jesus to open your eyes, your ears, your mind and your heart, to see more places of opportunities where you can actively be the deliverance of Jesus in the life of someone else. Open yourself and wait patiently for Jesus’ guidance. Perhaps nothing will come to you in this very moment. But I guarantee that, if we continue to pray that prayer and keep ourselves open, we will discover, day by day, more and more ways to be the presence of Jesus and bring deliverance to the lives of those in need. Take a moment to reflect and pray right now.
In closing this morning, I want to share a way that Trinity is already delivering others because of your faithful giving. Over the past couple years, because of and in spite of COVID, Trinity has received donations to our operating budget more than we spent out of that budget. While Ruth Smith worked here at Trinity, we did some interfaith work and got to know Silai, a young woman here in West Lafayette whose family escaped Afghanistan decades ago. Much of their family remained in Afghanistan and in recent years had worked closely with Americans and the new Afghan government to improve their country. But now, under Taliban rule, their lives are in serious danger. So, because of your faithful giving, in September, Trinity’s board voted to use some of that surplus, as well as Missions funds, to cover filing fees for humanitarian parole for 11 Afghans whose lives are under threat. Just a few weeks ago, the paperwork was filed with the Department of Homeland Security and we are waiting eagerly for the processing to be completed. Friends, their lives are so threatened the women and girls cannot even leave their homes. But, we are working for their deliverance.
Jesus is coming still in this season of Advent. The very real presence of Jesus, the deliverer, still has a place… and we are that place.
Sermon videos are currently available on our homepage.
On a lifelong journey of seeking to live out God's call on my life and to reflect His grace.
10 Minute Sermons